World Mental Health Day was Saturday, October 10 – a reminder that mental and emotional well-being are as important as physical health. This message is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has fueled anxiety and depression across the globe. Regrettably, “COVID-19 has interrupted essential mental health services around the world just when they’re needed most,” stated Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO).
Over the past several months, demand for mental health services has been skyrocketing, with people facing unprecedented levels of isolation, grief, unemployment, and fear stemming from the pandemic and efforts to contain the virus’s spread. Nine out of 10 countries (93%) reported disruptions or stoppages of mental health services in a recent WHO survey of 130 countries. Prior to the pandemic, countries were spending less than 2 percent of their national health budgets on mental health, a significant underinvestment in an area of critical need.
This week’s edition of Rabin Martin’s COVID-19 Briefing explores the pandemic’s impact on the mental health of people around the world. With mental health care already low on the list of public health priorities, how will health systems manage the growing need? Will the pandemic elevate mental health on the global health agenda? Our earlier COVID-19 Briefings are available here.
Kindly note that we are shifting to a bi-weekly publication schedule. We invite you to send comments and suggestions on topics of interest.
The U.S. accounts for over 20 percent of global cases, reporting 7,920,386 cases and 216,933 deaths. COVID-19 is now the third leading cause of death in the country, behind heart disease and cancer.
The pandemic’s second wave is making its way across several European countries, with the continent overtaking the U.S. in total number of cases. Hospitals in England and France are seeing shortages of beds and personal protective equipment: “I don’t want to panic people, but within seven to 10 days our hospitals will be at the level they were at [during] the peak of the pandemic,” said Matthew Ashton, Director of Public Health, Liverpool. On Sunday, October 11, British officials confirmed they will be implementing a three-tier lockdown system – medium, high, and very high alert areas – to contain the virus. On Friday, October 9, France reported a record 20,300 new cases, resulting in new lockdowns and a nightly curfew in Paris. In Poland, officials instituted a new mandatory mask mandate after the country witnessed a record daily spike in new COVID-19 cases (over 4,000); reported daily cases jumped more than 40 percent on Thursday, October 8 from the day before.
Source: The Wall Street Journal, October 14, 2020
In India, a “rural surge” of COVID-19 infections is driving the country’s epidemic. On Sunday, October 11, India hit seven million confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 74,383 infections reported over the previous 24 hours. In the coming weeks, India could surpass the U.S. as the country with the most cases. Meanwhile, in Brazil, over 150,000 people have died from COVID-19. The country has the second-highest COVID-19 related death toll globally, after the U.S., and the third-highest number of cases, behind the U.S. and India.
Mental Health: An Unfolding Crisis
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO
The breadth of COVID-19’s toll on mental health is still unknown, yet the damaging short-term effects are evident. COVID-19 infection has been linked to cognitive complications, known informally as “COVID brain fog.” Symptoms include memory loss, confusion, difficulty focusing, dizziness, and aphasia – all of which impair one’s ability to function normally.
The virus’s mental health impact reaches far beyond those infected. In Japan, public health officials reported rising suicide rates in August, attributed at least in part to the pandemic’s societal strains. In the U.S., a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that over half of Americans reported that their mental health had been negatively affected due to “worry and stress over the coronavirus.” In July, 40 percent of adults in the U.S. reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, compared with 11 percent in the first half of 2019. On Monday, October 12, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published an article on a potential “second wave” of mental health crises stemming from the pandemic: “The magnitude of this second wave is likely to overwhelm the already frayed mental health system, leading to access problems, particularly for the most vulnerable persons.”
For those living in conflict areas, COVID-19 is exacerbating the already high rate of mental health problems – estimated at more than 20 percent – among these populations. UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, contends that mental health is now a “full-blown crisis” among refugees. Médecins Sans Frontières states that it is seeing a “dramatic deterioration in the mental health of camp residents,” including increases in attempted suicides, at a refugee complex in Kenya housing hundreds of thousands of Somalis.
The WHO has called for increased investment in mental health services, extending beyond the immediate crisis. While 89 percent of countries surveyed listed mental health/psychosocial support as part of their national COVID-19 response plans, only 17 percent of these countries have the required funding to implement them.
Mental Health Resources
- Coping in Times of Crisis: Mental Health Resources, de Beaumont Foundation
- Stress and Coping, CDC
- Mental Health and COVID-19 Information and Resources, Mental Health America
- COVID-19 Mental Health Resource Hub, Psych Hub
- Strategies to support the health & well-being of clinicians during the covid-19 outbreak, National Academy of Medicine
- Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak, World Health Organization
- How to cope with stress during the pandemic, World Health Organization (WhatsApp chat feature)
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. For hotlines in other countries, click here.
On Friday, October 9, the Council on Foreign Relations published a new report criticizing world leaders’ lack of preparedness and inability to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. An Independent Task Force led by Sylvia Mathews Burwell, former Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Frances Fragos Townsend, former Chair, U.S. Homeland Security Council, found that decisionmakers “provided the illusion—but not the reality—of preparedness” and failed to invest in prevention, detection, and response capacities to mitigate pandemics.The report underscored the shortcomings of the U.S. response, noting that “unforced errors on public health risk communication” compounded the administration’s failings. “To better prepare for the next crisis, and future waves of the current one, the United States will need to devote considerable political capital and economic resources to reducing the domestic and global vulnerabilities that jeopardize individual, national, and global health security,” the report asserted.
From the Experts
“If you take the whole of the UN, it doesn’t work without global leadership by the countries themselves, especially the major powers… They should step up and lead, which is not the case in this pandemic, which is causing the pandemic to actually continue.”
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO
Monday, October 12
“We’ve seen that when you have situations of congregate settings, where there are a lot of people without masks, the data speak for themselves… And now is even more so a worse time to do that, because when you look at what’s going on in the United States it’s really very troublesome.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Monday, October 12
“The global trend in vaccine uptake is plateauing and in some places declining. If we don’t get on it now, because we didn’t get on it yesterday, and COVID is making it worse, we will be in a mess. Time is running out.”
Dr. Heidi Larson, Director, Vaccine Confidence Project
Tuesday, October 13
“[The proposal to pursue herd immunity] is a fringe component of epidemiology. This is not mainstream science. It’s dangerous. It fits into the political views of certain parts of our confused political establishment. I’m sure it will be an idea that someone can wrap themselves in as a justification for skipping wearing masks or social distancing and just doing whatever they damn well please.”
Dr. Francis Collins, Director, National Institutes of Health
Tuesday, October 13
“While the global economy is coming back, the ascent will likely be long, uneven, and uncertain. Indeed, compared to our forecast in June, prospects have worsened significantly in some emerging market and developing economies where [COVID-19] infections are rising rapidly.”
Gita Gopinath, Economic Counsellor and Director of Research, International Monetary Fund
Tuesday, October 13
“[The U.S. is] starting from a much higher plateau than we were before the summer wave. It concerns me that we might see even more cases during the next peak than we did during the summer.”
Dr. Caitlin Rivers, Epidemiologist, Johns Hopkins University
Thursday, October 15
What We’re Reading
- Improving Pandemic Preparedness: Lessons From COVID-19 – Thomas J. Bollyky and Stewart M. Patrick, Council on Foreign Relations
- Another Casualty of The Coronavirus Pandemic: Trust In Government Science – Joel Achenbach and Laurie McGinley, The Washington Post
- Facebook Rolls Out A New Vaccine Misinformation Policy — But Leaves Out Pages Where Falsehoods Thrive – Erin Brodwin, STAT News
- Heidi Larson: She Hunts Viral Rumors About Real Viruses – Jenny Anderson, The New York Times
- Taking Pandemic Sequelae Seriously: From the Russian Influenza To COVID-19 Long-Haulers – Mark Honigsbaum and Lakshmi Krishnan, The Lancet
- How a Bizarre Claim About Masks Has Lived on for Months – Olga Khazan, The Atlantic
- Two Black University Leaders Urged Their Campuses to Join a COVID-19 Vaccine Trial. The Backlash Was Swift – Nicholas St. Fleur, STAT News
- New Poll Shows Black Americans Put Far Less Trust In Doctors And Hospitals Than White People – Jess Washington, The Undefeated
Reports from International Governments and Bodies
- WHO COVID-19 Information and Guidance
- WHO Weekly Epidemiological Update: October 12
- WHO Weekly Operational Update: October 9
- CDC Coronavirus Resource Page
- COVID-19 Health Systems Response Monitor
- NCD Alliance COVID resources relevant to NCDs
Funding and Policy Trackers
- International Monetary Fund Policy Tracker
- Kaiser Family Foundation Coronavirus Policy Tracker
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Corporate Aid Tracker
- Devex Interactive Funding Tracker
Resource Pages and Market Research Literature
- JAMA Resource Center
- The Lancet COVID-19 Resource Centre
- 2019 Novel Coronavirus Research Compendium (NCRC)
- National Academy of Medicine COVID-19 News and Resources
- WIPO COVID-19 IP Policy Tracker
- The COVID Tracking Project
- PharmaIntelligence: Coronavirus – What will the Impact Be?
- Health Affairs Resource Center
- STAT News COVID-19 Tracker
- Global Health NOW’s COVID-19 Expert Reality Check
- International Association of National Public Health Institutes COVID-19 Resources
- Center for Strategic and International Studies The Reopening and Take as Directed Coronavirus Crisis Update Podcast
- Primary Health Care Performance Initiative Forum
- U.S. Global Leadership Coalition COVID-19 Issue Briefs
- Prevent Epidemics Weekly Science Review
- COVID-19 Watch Weekly Updates
For more information or should you have any questions, please contact us.
About Rabin Martin
Rabin Martin is a global health strategy firm working at the intersection of private sector capabilities and unmet public health needs. Rooted in our mission to improve health for underserved populations, we design strategies, programs and partnerships that both deliver public health impact and drive business results. We leverage our deep knowledge and networks across a wide range of geographies and health areas to develop tailored solutions for every client engagement. We have helped many clients create bold global health initiatives and innovative multi-sector partnerships. Our specific areas of expertise include infectious disease and vaccines, non-communicable diseases, rare diseases, maternal and child health, and universal health coverage. Our clients and partners include multinational health care companies, multilateral institutions, government agencies, large foundations and leading NGOs. Rabin Martin is part of the Omnicom Public Relations Group.
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Omnicom Public Relations Group is a global collective of three of the top global public relations agencies worldwide and eight specialist agencies in public affairs, marketing to women, fashion, global health strategy and corporate social responsibility. It encompasses more than 6,000 public relations professionals in more than 330 offices worldwide who provide their expertise to companies, government agencies, NGOs and nonprofits across a wide range of industries. Omnicom Public Relations Group delivers for clients through a relentless focus on talent, continuous pursuit of innovation and a culture steeped in collaboration. Omnicom Public Relations Group is part of the DAS Group of Companies, a division of Omnicom Group Inc. that includes more than 200 companies in a wide range of marketing disciplines including advertising, public relations, healthcare, customer relationship management, events, promotional marketing, branding and research.